Thursday, May 27, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Friday, May 14, 2010
We believe in transparency around here, and when it comes to lacrosse, I’ve just never gotten it. I blame my upbringing in rural Connecticut, a whole ‘nother world away from the lacrosse hotbed of Fairfield County.
But lacrosse is big among the Dutch Nation (snort) faithful, probably the second-most popular sport behind men’s basketball (kind of like being the second-tallest midget in a room, but I digress). We understand the Loyal Readers here will want some lacrosse coverage, but as I noted yesterday, I’m not going to bluff you with my two-seven off-suit. Better to leave it in the hands of the trained professionals—you know, guys like Patrick Stevens.
I met Patrick—the maven of mid-Atlantic college sports and author of the outstanding D1scourse blog—in the Twitterverse over the winter and then in person in Richmond, where I spent about four of my 36 hours sitting in his seat along press row. He’s done a fantastic job of covering men’s lacrosse in general and has been all over tournament coverage this week.
He took a few minutes yesterday to discuss the NCAA Tournament, including of course an in-depth analysis of the first-round game Saturday between Hofstra and Maryland, as well as to explain how he ended up doing the blog in the first place (spoiler: because the real world, and the “business” of journalism in particular, sucks) and the difference between covering college basketball and college lacrosse. He also sneaks in a reference to Se7en, the creepiest movie ever made. Thanks again to Patrick for his time and make sure to read both his blog and his Twitter (@D1scourse) leading up to and during Saturday’s game.
Let’s shatter the idyllic hopes and dreams of aspiring writers who stumble upon this site and think sports journalism is the ultimate dream-come-true gig with absolutely no downside whatsoever. Explain the series of events that led to you starting this blog, as well as what D1scourse means (I’m stumped on the scourse part).
Long story short, I got a part-time gig with The Washington Times out of college in the summer of 2002. From there, I worked my way up to full-time copy editor, then got moved into the Maryland football and basketball beat early in the Terrapins' 2005 season. So far, so good. Then the Times faced some financial turmoil, and decided the best way to proceed was to slash the entire sports department at the end of last year. So that sort of sucked. I'm still looking for permanent work, and have used the blog as a bit of a sanity saver—maybe more than I should.
Anyway, "D1scourse" is supposed to be pronounced "discourse," but still maintain the play on "D-1." You know, sort of like Se7en, minus the decapitation and a creepy appearance from Kevin Spacey at the end and Numb3rs with just a little bit less math (but not much). That was the blog name I had at the Times, and figured that if they didn't want a sports section they probably didn't care if I took the name of the blog, either. It's supposed to be Google-friendly, but I might have out-thought myself on that one.
In happier news: Hofstra made the NCAA Tournament despite not qualifying for the CAA Tournament. What do you think it was about Hofstra that impressed the Selection Committee?
Without question, it was Hofstra's victory over Johns Hopkins back in March. It's really the best argument Seth Tierney's team can come up with, and it would have been pretty weak had Hopkins lost either of its last two games and not vaulted into the top 10 in the RPI.
Hofstra's strength of schedule was middling, it had just a dreadful loss to Penn State and its second-best win was against a sub-.500 team (Towson). To be fair, a midseason evisceration of Army certainly was impressive. But without that Hopkins win, this team had no chance to be in the tournament.
You’ve seen a lot of Maryland games this year. What makes them a dangerous opponent for Hofstra, and conversely, is there anything Hofstra does that makes the Flying Dutchmen particularly dangerous for Maryland?
The best part about this edition of Maryland is it never gives a whole lot away. Virginia (twice) and North Carolina had to play well to beat the Terps, and they never seem to panic even after a lousy quarter at various junctures.
The Terps' offensive pieces, particularly on attack, are going to be difficult for anyone to deal with. Grant Catalino and Will Yeatman are both big guys who aren't easy to defend, and Ryan Young (a Long Island product) helps orchestrate the offense. One other guy to look out for is Brian Farrell, Maryland's junior long pole. Few players nationally are as lethal in transition.
As for Hofstra, the three guys who really stand out are Jamie Lincoln (the Denver transfer), Jay Card and Kevin Ford. Lincoln and Card are the explosive scorers from Canada, one a lefty and one a righty. Ford came back from injury not too long ago, and adds an extra element for opponents to plan for.
No one I talk to seems to have a good recent comparison for what Hofstra does. They might be a smarter, more poised version of the Denver team Maryland beat up in the 2008 first round. I'm curious to see how an underrated Maryland defense deals with a high-powered attack.
Who on Maryland should Hofstra fans keep an eye on?
Maryland is good all over the place—there are few obvious weaknesses besides the midfield, where the Terps will probably run four lines in the first 10 minutes and use depth to make up for the absence of a single dominant player. In addition to the attackmen listed above (as well as Farrell), I'd probably point out Brian Phipps is one of the most tested goalies in the tournament and could carry Maryland if need be. The Schmidts—Max and Brett, no relation—are fine defensemen. And at the midfield, keep an eye out for Joe Cummings, a guy who has played well down the stretch and is an opportunistic converted attackman.
What are your predictions for the game and the tournament? Who are the favorites, in your opinion? (Warning: We don’t look kindly upon southern or mid-Atlantic bias here, even if you’re speaking a foreign language such as lacrosse!)
You and your bias. Tsk, tsk.
In this particular game, I like Maryland by three or four goals—maybe something in the 13-10 range. Hofstra can score, but it also has yielded double digits in five of its last six games and isn't particularly great between the pipes. Card and Lincoln will have to go nuts to pull the upset, and I'm not sure Maryland will let both of them put up huge days.
In the tournament, even though Virginia is the No. 1 seed, there's no telling how the Cavaliers are going to handle the tumult of having a (now former) teammate accused of murder. That leaves Syracuse—which has won the last two titles—as the most plausible favorite.
Beyond that, there's this opportunistic Maryland team and whoever comes out of the North Carolina/Duke/Hopkins/Delaware quadrant of intrigue. But betting on the 'Cuse is never a bad idea once May rolls around.
Lastly, another industry question: You cover ACC basketball during the winter. What is the difference, access-wise, in covering the sports? I imagine lax programs being more open than the hoops programs.
In general, I think that's a fair assessment. If you want to get a coach on the phone, you either call their direct office line or their cell. People are usually happy to see you come in lacrosse (though I'd say Duke '06 and the current situation at Virginia would be exceptions to that), and players are often less reserved in showing off their personalities than in other sports.
The April/May stretch was always something I looked forward to, simply because access was so tight throughout hoops season that lacrosse was a great change of pace. My editors didn't always seem thrilled with it, but there are enough interesting stories in the game to frequently make the time invested worthwhile—even if it wasn't a pressure cooker in terms of mainstream interest.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Friday, May 7, 2010
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Hofstra athletic director Jack Hayes took a few minutes tonight to discuss the hiring of Mo Cassara and one of the wildest and most unpredictable five-day spans in school history. Thanks to Jack for taking time out of a busy schedule to speak with us.
How did you decide Mo was the right candidate for the job?
Certainly the last five weeks weren’t meant to be an interview process. We never thought we’d be in this situation. But over the last five weeks, we worked closely with Mo Cassara. We both know a lot of the same people in the business, people that over the last two days turned out to be references as we started going in this direction. And we felt very comfortable with it—felt very comfortable with Mo Cassara and his relationship with the members of the team, with the coaching staff that we currently have, how he interacted with a number of people on campus, and felt that he was ready to take on this challenge. Certainly, five weeks ago, we said we were looking for a head coach. Well, the circumstances changed. So while we didn’t eliminate head coaches, the circumstances going about it were certainly much different than the circumstances five weeks ago.
When did you begin to think an internal option was the way to go?
I think that it was always something we wanted to consider. I was concerned that we might be in a position where our basketball team would have been on its third coaching staff in six weeks. That being said, I still wrestled with that versus what ultimately was in the best interests long-term of the basketball program. And in going back and weighing both of those situations, I still felt that Mo Cassara’s background and his coaching experience at a variety of levels was going to be best for us.
Were you surprised you were able to keep the entire staff together?
I think that they worked closely together for four or five weeks and certainly have come together during what’s been a challenging few days. I think that, being the case, we’ve communicated regularly throughout the last few days, talked about different options and I think they’re all excited to be here and to be part of this program moving forward.
I think they were all committed to the same thing, committed to being successful. They’re committed to the fact that they came to a program that has won a lot of games in recent years and they want to be part of it moving forward and continuing what has been over the years. I think they’re really excited.
When did your search zero in on Mo?
In the last couple days. Certainly, conversations that Mo and the president and I have had, those conversations were about what we do going forward in the event that he was the coach, how would we handle those things. The whole coaching staff had an opportunity to meet a lot of people at an event last night and I know our team, I know people in our department and people across campus felt very comfortable with the entire staff.
You mentioned the players. How important was it to give them some stability after a whirlwind few weeks?
It was very important. Like I said, you wrestle with the decision of what’s in the best long-term interests—how do you handle the current team and the feelings of all those individuals? Those things were important. And making the announcement late in the afternoon today, they were thrilled.
Were you ever worried that you would not be able to consider someone from the current staff because the University would want to completely cut ties with those connected to Tim?
Not really. We did not think that. I shouldn’t even say not really—the answer is no. We had, certainly, an unfortunate and a disappointing situation take place. It did not impact looking at any of the individuals on our staff.
There have obviously been rumors of other players departing Hofstra. Do you think this move will keep them in the fold?
Nobody has asked [for a release] of yet. These things are always challenging for student athletes, because it happens in all sports. When those things take place, you try to help them through it. You try to get a coaching staff in place as soon as you can. And this was one of those situations where you just never thought five weeks ago, obviously, that we would be going through it again. But we had the best candidate right here on our staff.
How important was it to hire someone from Welsh’s staff in order to maintain continuity during the recruiting season?
Very important. Very important. Because once the situation arose on Friday, a lot of those things came to a halt. So it is critical that we get right back to the good work that was being done throughout the month of April.
Going back to the start of this process—what did the weekend entail for you?
I did see a couple things that came out in various places [about how] no comment had been made at all. That ‘no comment’ wasn’t a sign of support or lack of support for the coach. ‘No comment’ was we didn’t have a lot of the facts. So as we tried to get the facts not just Friday but over the weekend, I certainly knew that there was a chance that we may not have a coach on Monday. So when Tim Welsh resigned on Monday, I wasn’t surprised. We were ready to move forward at the time.
The truth is we didn’t have all the information. So we tried to gather as much as we could over the weekend. But I knew right from the beginning we had a serious situation and a very disappointing one. ‘No comment’ wasn’t a sign of support for the coach. We weren’t in position at the time to do anything. That’s really want the situation was.
Did this change at all the process by which you conduct background checks for coaching candidates?
We did everything that you would expect to do [with Welsh], from the process of doing the background check. The references were very credible [from] people in the field. And in terms of moving forward, we would have done the same thing, we would have gone through the same process with an external candidate. And with Mo Cassara, he had gone through the whole process as an assistant. Unfortunately, things happen that are not within your control, and it certainly wasn’t the result of not—it wasn’t a result of a lack of taking those proper steps. Nothing ever came up.
These were fairly unchartered waters you were entering. Did you consult with athletic directors who had gone through a coaching change in late spring, such as FDU last year or New Hampshire in 2005?
I did not talk to ADs who had done that. I certainly talked to ADs about the situation that we were in—not necessarily ones that had gone through it, but ones that I knew very well.
At the end of the day, you want to do what’s right. I want to do what’s right for the student-athletes. I want to do what’s right for Hofstra. And we were in a situation that we certainly did not anticipate, a situation that was disappointing. And that’s the cards that we were dealt. And I felt like my responsibility was to try to get us through that and move forward. And that’s what the five days—that’s what has taken place from 9:30 Friday morning until about 4 o’clock this afternoon.
What’s your mindset now, after a whirlwind five days? Are you exhausted? Still running on adrenaline?
A search process is exhausting because it’s extensive, it’s a lot of conversations, it’s a lot of following up. You’ve got to look at every situation you could be in. I think you need to look at every situation from a variety of points of view. And you do that the whole time hoping that what you’re doing is making the right decision and making the right decision that impacts a large number of people. So it’s one of those things that is very concerning. But I understand that’s the responsibility, and while I never anticipated that following the April 1 announcement that we would be doing this again, that was the case, it was where we’ve been over the last five days. And the only option, again, is to go at it in a way that you think is in the best interests of Hofstra and of our team members.
Mo Cassara woke up today in the graduate dorms at Hofstra, an assistant coach in limbo and not even officially working for the school following the resignation of Tim Welsh on Monday. Cassara will go to bed tonight the head coach of the Flying Dutchmen. Cassara took a few minutes out of the wildest day of his life to answer a few questions from Defiantly Dutch. We profusely thank Cassara for his time.
Could you begin to describe what the last several days have been like for you?
I couldn’t even. It’s crazy.
How did this process begin for you?
Yesterday morning, Jack Hayes and the president approached me about sitting down and talking about the team and the program and where we were and what the current status was with our players and recruiting and how everything was going. And then after our meeting—which I thought was going to be pretty informal and short—it went a lot longer, I had a feeling they may be interested in hiring an internal candidate.
It really went fast from there. I think from there, Jack and his staff and Danny McCabe, they did a really good job of reaching out to people who know me. I think they started to feel comfortable with the situation. One of the unique things here, like Danny McCabe said, sometimes, when you interview somebody, you talk for a couple hours. I’ve been here almost six weeks. They really got a shot to see how I operate. Part of the reasons is they’re comfortable with the staff here, not just me, and the staff we can hire. I think it’s going to be a great marriage.
Did you have a feeling last night that you might be a candidate for the head job?
I really didn’t know. I’ve been staying at the graduate school dorm. I was laying there in the bunk bed last night and not sure what’s going to happen. And obviously here we are today. It’s really crazy.
There was such a level of uncertainty and you know it’s been a tough haul for everybody at a lot of levels. They’ve been great—the administration has been great, the players have been great—we kept working, we kept trying to fight through this and certainly now we’re going to continue to move forward. We’re just going to keep moving forward, we’re going to hit the ground running. We don’t really have to stop what we’re doing.
Presumably, the negotiations were quick?
Really was. It was very quick. It was late this afternoon. And then obviously we went right into meeting with the team.
What was their reaction?
Very excited. I think they wanted to put this all behind them. They felt very comfortable with our staff. Again, they felt very comfortable with our staff—not just me, it was all about this terrific staff that was already in place.
Have you been able to talk to family members and fellow coaches and inform them of the news?
Not a lot. I’m sitting here, my phone’s ringing off the hook and going crazy. But I did manage to call my Dad quickly and he almost drove off the road. So I’ve got to call and make sure he’s OK [laughs].
What can fans expect from a Mo Cassara-coached team?
I think you’re going to have a team that works incredibly hard, plays together and that’s going to have a real sense of teamwork. I think if we can do those things we can be pretty successful because of the people we’ve already got here. And that’s a credit to Tom Pecora and Jay Wright.
There have been rumors that Chaz Williams is thinking of transferring. Do you think your presence will help keep players here?
I think that anytime there’s a lot if instability and a lot of uncertainty, players are uncertain. With what has happened here recently, that’s expected. I think with the stability and keeping of our staff here, I think that hopefully we can move forward with this group already in place.
Have you talked to Tim today?
I haven’t had a chance to talk to him. I’m sure I will reach out to him tonight and have a chance to talk to him.
Lastly, what does it say for Hofstra that it was willing to move forward with you and not start anew with a different staff?
I think when you’re in a situation like this, I think the most important thing is the team and the players grew very comfortable with the staff. I can’t emphasize it enough: We’ve got a great staff in place here and together we’ll have a chance to really do something special.
Another day, another opportunity to investigate if Hofstra is setting precedence in all the wrong ways. Good news! Unlike Monday, our beloved alma mater may in fact be SETTING THE PRECEDENT RIGHT NOW when it comes to two members of the CAA’s all-rookie team opting to transfer after their freshman season!
On the same day Halil Kanacevic announced his plans to transfer to Saint Joseph’s—guess we’re not going to be in the Atlantic 10 anytime in the next four seasons, sigh—his fellow all-rookie team member, Chaz Williams, reportedly asked Hofstra for a release from HIS scholarship.
(Edit: A source tells DD this morning that Williams did not request his release yesterday. This is me stepping away from the ledge, at least momentarily)
Hofstra was the 18th team in CAA history to place at least two players on the all-rookie team. At least one player on the first 17 duos finished his career with the school for whom he played for his rookie year.
In fact, according to the Googles, only eight all-rookie players didn’t play all four seasons at their original school, and according to my research, only three transferred. And just one did so immediately after his all-rookie season: Bill Phillips of William & Mary, who left the Tribe after the 1997-98 season for—I am not kidding you here—Saint Joseph’s. Phil Martelli: Screwing the CAA for three decades!!!
That’s right: If Williams chooses to transfer, Hofstra would lose more all-rookie players in one off-season—hell, one month—than the entire CAA did in the preceding 25 years. Fan. Freaking. Tastic.
At this point, I expect Charles Jenkins to sign a contract with a professional team in the Vatican City today, for Greg Washington to drop out of school Thursday so that he can star as The Tall Man in a remake of Phantasm (surely to be produced by Michael Bay, because he hasn’t ruined enough of the horror movie franchises of my youth) and for Nathaniel Lester to discover an ancient Tiki doll on Friday, at which point everything will REALLY go haywire.
Sound absurd? Well hell, it’s not much stranger than reality.
This is, as a member of the CAA Stonecutters put it last night, mind-boggling. In less than two months, a program that—groan—prided itself on stability has been enveloped in unprecedented chaos.
We didn’t have much, but we had predictability. Hofstra had two coaches in 16 years, a feat matched by just two other CAA schools (Old Dominion and George Mason).
Tom Pecora was here, as sure as traffic on the LIE and crappy, overpriced food at Hofstra, and he was always going to outhustle the bigger schools in the area and find big-time guards around whom he could build. The bigs would be crapshoots, and there would be more guys who left us scratching our heads than there would be Adrian Uters dominating the paint, but we were OK with that.
The Flying Dutchmen had yet to win the CAA championship or go to the NCAA Tournament, but there was a certain comfort in the reliability of Pecora-coached teams, a certain nobility in the effort and a certain knowledge that this is how it works at the mid-major level. All you can do is lay the foundation, and hope things break your way.
And Pecora had built the foundation—ESPECIALLY now. The makeup of the roster was unbalanced after Pecora loaded up on junior college transfers in the fall of 2008 and didn’t sign a single freshman, but the 2010-11 team was shaping up as one of the deepest and most interesting teams of his tenure.
There would be the three experienced seniors as well as a couple enticing transfers in senior Brad Kelleher and junior Mike Moore. Kanacevic and Williams were going to lead the cavalcade of exciting sophomores and a couple promising freshmen would be added to the mix as well.
If the Flying Dutchmen still had a long way to climb to get to the top of the CAA—as a friend put it yesterday, all this talk about winning it all was a bit much for a team that needed an unprecedented second half run just to finish seventh this year—a top-four finish and the ever-valuable first round bye certainly seemed likely, especially with semifinalists Northeastern and VCU and finalist William & Mary losing a ton of talent and champion Old Dominion graduating its best player.
Now? Now Hofstra is headed for a third coach in as many months as a potentially special season shapes up as one to remember for all the wrong reasons.
Another friend, a fan of Northeastern, points out that this doesn’t have to turn into a disaster for Hofstra. He reminds me that after Ron Everhart left Boston with everything except the Green Monster in his briefcase in the spring of 2006, new coach Bill Coen managed to overcome the late start to recruiting and find one of the best players in school history, Matt Janning, in the summer and eventually steer the Huskies to a 9-9 record in the CAA. Four years later, Coen signed an extension that will keep him at Northeastern for the rest of his career if he so chooses.
I appreciate the reminder that out of chaos can come permanence, but I’m having a hard time looking ahead a couple seasons, or envisioning anything other than the Titanic grinding ashore next fall and winter.
I’d rather not look ahead. Instead, is it too much to wish I could fire up the DeLorean and go back in time to the final Tuesday of February, when the wife and I made fools of ourselves (shaddup) at Applebees as we cheered an unlikely upset win over Northeastern? Or at least to the final minute of regulation in the CAA quarterfinal game against Northeastern the first Saturday of March, when the Dutchmen seemed ready to pull off another shocker and advance to the semifinals?
Things were going great and they were only getting better. Who knew it was all a cruel tease? Who knew the Flying Dutchmen as we knew them were a one-hit wonder?
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
Monday, May 3, 2010
Whether Tim Welsh resigned of his own accord or with a “nudge” from Hofstra, the right thing happened today, when the 33-day Welsh Era/Error ended with a 34-word news release.
It’s a sad and stunning end to something that seemed so promising as recently as last week, but retaining Welsh would have been a PR nightmare for a school that hates bad publicity (which is the only publicity it seems to be getting lately, but I digress). And with a mere month on the job, Welsh didn’t have nearly the political capital to convince Hofstra he was worth the headache.
Unfortunately, doing the right thing is often painful, and some dark days seem ahead for a Hofstra squad whose future appeared so bright just two months ago, when the Flying Dutchmen finished the regular season on an 8-1 tear, Charles Jenkins won the CAA player of the year and two members of a deep freshman class, Halil Kanacevic and Chaz Williams, made the all-rookie team.
Now the Dutchmen are searching for a new coach for the second time in six weeks, and whomever the new NEW guy is will have a lot more to repair and restore than Welsh did. The new NEW guy will have to make sure Kanacevic is the only departure among the freshman. He’ll also have the task of building trust with Jenkins, Nathaniel Lester, Greg Washington and Brad Kelleher, all of whom are seeing their opportunity at a storybook senior season slip away.
It’s not unsalvageable, but don’t kid yourself, it’s a big ol’ mess. And a mistake in the new NEW coaching search and Hofstra will have a lot more to worry about than just trying to save 2010-11.
Here’s a completely uninformed look at five possible candidates to become the new NEW Hofstra coach, in order of likelihood they’ll stroll the sidelines in Hempstead next season.
Jerry Wainwright: If Hofstra is looking for a caretaker—whether of the one-year variety, a theory floated today by noted Hofstra hoops expert Mike Francesa, or of the Butch van Breda Kolff type—then it could do a lot worse than Wainwright, 63. He got fired by DePaul midway through this season, but he won two CAA titles with UNC Wilmington and took Richmond to the NCAA Tournament in his second year there. But would he be willing to leave North Carolina for what could be a very short gig?
Van Macon: The ex-Hofstra assistant is the best candidate and the only person who could bring anything resembling continuity to the program. But would he be willing to come back to a school that was so quick to overlook him a month ago? And would Tom Pecora be willing to let him go now that Fordham is neck-deep in recruiting season?
Tom Moore: The Quinnipiac coach has ties to Jack Hayes from their days at UConn. But he just signed an extension at Quinnipiac and, like Rice, seems positioned for a BCS gig sooner than later. Almost as importantly: How much influence will Hayes have on this hire?
Mike Rice: The Robert Morris coach is the biggest and hottest name out there, and making this type of splash would be the fastest way to wash away the embarrassment created by Welsh. But this is too close to a lateral move for someone who has made back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and who shouldn’t need to stop at another mid-major in order to position himself for a BCS gig.
Tom Pecora: Hey, you never know.